'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 7 August 2018

12 Curly Questions with author/editor Katrina Lehman

 1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
It’s silly, I know, but I have always felt that what you read as a child forms a part of your DNA. When people tell me they have never read John Marsden’s Tomorrow series or Judy Blume or Hardy Boys or I am David or The Silver Sword or Skellig, I can’t help feeling their loss. It’s like they missed a slice of childhood and an essential part of their character development.

2. What is your nickname? 
Treen or treendreamer

3. What is your greatest fear?
I lost my little brother to leukaemia when he was only 18. Losing someone else in my family to an illness like that is probably my one and only fear. Everything else pales into insignificance. Well, maybe except for karaoke and cockroaches ...

4. Describe your writing style in 10 words. 
Helping people find magic in the mundane and every-day.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Passionate, observant, creative, curious, humorous.

6. What book character would you be, and why? 
Ellie, from John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began. She’s tough, adventurous, creative, resilient, loyal, stubborn, direct and yet she had a huge capacity to love and to see the good in everyone.

7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why? 
1986 – when I was 10, on our farm ‘Wooloona’. My whole life was about a world without adults – camping, leeching, yabbying, box-sliding down very steep hills, mouse-hunting, wading through creeks, horse riding. I would give anything to relive that magic childhood world where anything and everything was possible.

8. What would your 10-year-old self say to you now? 
You will be a writer! It will take a long time, and life will get in the way (kids, houses, jobs, travelling) but you will get there. Maybe have a bit more faith in yourself and send that story to publishers when you’re 30 instead of 40. Also, trust me: no matter what bad things life throws at you (and it will get bad), you will get through it. And it will prove to be your greatest strength.

9. Who is your greatest influence? 
My family. Especially my dad. He was such a wonderful bundle of contradictions: he was a stoic farmer yet he loved parties and people; he was just as happy doing the flower arrangement (and making us swear not to tell visitors), tending his veggie garden and reading, as he was beating us on the tennis court, teaching us to bodysurf, and getting us up at 4.30am to drench sheep before the heat. He inspired my competitiveness, my love of the outdoors and nature, my resilience and my self-belief. He taught me to pursue my dreams. He was only very young when he died and he gave me the sort of childhood many people can only dream of – a childhood that inspires my writing every day.

10. What/who made you start writing? 
As long as I can remember, I have written. I had a dream childhood growing up with three siblings on a farm in country NSW. If I wasn’t out on the farm I had my head stuck in a book, or I was writing in my diary, or I was making up stories to scare my siblings at bedtime. In Grade 6, Colin Thiele visited to talk about Storm Boy and writing. I so wanted to be him. I was hooked. I wrote a Famous Five rip-off, illustrated, stapled and distributed it around school. And at 16, I won an ABC national short story competition. When I discovered in university that there was actually a career called Editing I was overjoyed. It seemed a natural progression from writing to wanting to work with people who created the magic.
I have always been fascinated by picture books and how such a powerful message can be conveyed in so few words and pictures. People don’t recognise the amount of time and effort that has gone into distilling an entire experience, a whole story with its complex structure and themes, into just 32 pages. Some of my favourite picture books that inspire me are: The Rabbits (John Marsden), The Red Tree (Shaun Tan), Fox (Margaret Wild) and Jenny Angel (Margaret Wild).

11. What is your favourite word and why? 
Magic. It's the one essential quality that I look for in people. I hope that somehow my writing will dig up a place/a memory/a feeling that people thought was long gone. To me, magic is about childhood and freedom and living the world how it should be lived. 
There is a beautiful quote by Robert McCammon that I have pinned up on my desk. It inspires me every day: 'We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves."

12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Oh that is just too hard when my whole life is about books. It depends what stage of life I am at and what emotional state I am feeding.
Reflective/in need of a good cry: When God was a Rabbit (Sarah Winman). An evocative, lyrical account of childhood and family secrets. A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness). Be prepared to cry. Do not read this in public.
With the kids: The Terrible Plop (Margaret Wild/Andy Joyner). I will happily read this every night (and do). Everything about this classic is perfect.
Today We Have No Plans (Jane Godwin/Anna Walker). A story that every busy family can relate to.
For older readers: anything by Sonya Hartnett, Bye Beautiful (Julia Lawrinson), The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid (Colin Meloy), Taronga (Victor Kelleher), Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli), The Lake at the End of the World (Caroline MacDonald), John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, The Naming of Tishkin Silk (Glenda Millard).

Katrina Lehman lives in Melbourne and works with award-winning authors and illustrators as an editor, while juggling three small children.